bNomadic

My travels, observations and experiences


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Almora Diary; Into the forests of Jhandidhar

Trishul and Mrigthuni from the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary

Trishul and Mrigthuni from the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. More pics at Flickr Photoset

As I begin to pour my thoughts down concerning a brief holiday-stopover at the notable forests of Jhandidhar, I am nearly getting a feeling that I might be doing injustice to the beauty and inimitability associated with this location. As a travel blogger, I have always felt that writing about experiences after the visits have long been concluded is a grave error one would commit and only the portrayal churned out by the relative thought-process provides the soul to the travel-memoirs. And yet, this time with the aid of travel-notes of my first excursion to Binsar, I am attempting to recreate my experience about a break which dates back to the summers of 2011.

Popularly known as Binsar, the forest of Jhandidhar derives its name from the ancient temple of Veeneshwar (or Bineshwar) located within the sanctuary. Spread in the heart of Kumaon at altitude varying from 1500 to 2500 m, Binsar is about 30 km on the Almora-Jageshwar road (SH37) from the main township of Almora. The smooth motorway from Almora makes its way through the forests of Jhandidhar to reach the interpretation centre-cum-entrance gate of the sanctuary. The notice boards at the interpretation centre clearly states the general obligations of a visitor with respect to the biodiversity inside the sanctuary. The entry ticket, obtainable only during the daytime, is valid for up to three days.

"Come and Get Lost"!!

“Come and Get Lost”!! More pics from the Kumaon region at Flickr Photoset

Jhandidhar’s popularity shot up when during the days of British Raj, Binsar was declared to be the administrative centre of Almora. As many as six estates still exist within the confines of the sanctuary and several other colonial bungalows could still be spotted in its vicinity. The sprawling estates have played host to a number of politicians and celebrities including the likes of Henry Ramsay, Vijaylaxmi Pandit, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Ballabh Bhai Patel, Tiziano Terzani and Uday Shankar, etc. Thanks to the efforts of environmentalists especially the Goralkot estate owner, the ridge and its forest wealth was saved from the clutches of commercialisation when it was notified as a sanctuary by the then UP government. Today, the forests of Jhandidhar are among the few remaining densely wooded green patch in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Mercifully, Binsar continues to harbour one of the few remaining natural temperate broadleaved forests in middle Himalaya.

The name Binsar originates from the ancient temple of Lord Shiva, Bineshwar Mahadev, situated in the middle of the sanctuary

The name Binsar originates from the ancient temple of Lord Shiva, Bineshwar Mahadev, situated in the middle of the sanctuary. More pics from the region at Flickr Photoset

As elsewhere, I had not made any prior arrangements to spend the night inside the sanctuary. There is no dearth of accommodation around the sanctuary but inside it is very limited. Located at a distance of 13 km from the main gate, the KMVN tourist rest house is positioned just perfectly on a ridge top. To keep myself away from the touristy humdrum, I was inclined towards staying at the Forest Rest House located a couple of km further. The supply of electricity inside the sanctuary is very limited and both properties operate on solar energy. Wooden floored, the FRH was still in its original state.

As the light starts fading, residents in the confines of the sanctuary throng the FRH compound to admire the sunset

As the light fades, tourists inside the sanctuary throng the FRH compound to admire the sunset

Interiors of the FRH still retain the original charm

Interiors of the FRH still retain much of its original charm. More from the region at Flickr

The then caretaker of the FRH, Sh Bache Singh Bisht readily agreed to double up as a guide through the forest. Having gobbled up a cup of hot ginger tea, we headed into the denseness of the forest. It is claimed to be the only wildlife sanctuary in the country where walking is permitted on the 62km of designated paths. Depending on the interest of the visitor, there are many identified trek routes within the jungle. The most popular of the lot is the one to the ridge top marked as Zero Point. The remainder of the trek options are for those who intend to observe the village life. There are as many as five villages inside the sanctuary limits. However, venturing into the forest after sunset is strictly prohibited.

The pathway to the Zero Point atop a ridge inside the sanctuary

The pathway to the Zero Point atop a ridge inside the sanctuary. More from the region at Flickr

The watch-hut named Zero Point atop the ridge

The watch-hut named Zero Point atop the ridge. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Commanding an uninterrupted panoramic view of the Great Himalayan Range from Yamunotri in the west to Nepal’s Mt Nampa towards the eastern horizon, the vantage point atop the ridge is popularly christened as the Zero Point (2410m). The watch hut at the ridge top is situated roughly at a distance of about two km from both the KMVN facility and the secluded FRH. Impregnated with moisture, the hazy greyish hue in the sky awaiting the grand arrival of monsoon partially obstructed our view towards the snowy heights. Nevertheless, the Goddess deity of Garhwal as well as Kumaon, Mt Nanda Devi was still noticeable above the clouds. It was my first affair with the grand view of Himalaya. The snowy curtain had induced Himalayan addiction into my soul. And as they say once the Himalayas are in your blood, there can be no escape.

A portion of the Great Himalayan Panorama captured from the Zero Point

A portion of the Great Himalayan Panorama captured from the Zero Point. L to R: Nanda Ghunti to Dangthal in the monsoon-rich skies. More from the region at Flickr Photoset

Binsar is a hiker's paradise. Pathways are accessible for most part of the year. One may not find habitation for hours at end, therefore, it is advisable to carry supplies along

Binsar is a hiker’s paradise. Pathways are accessible for most part of the year. One may not find habitation for hours at end, therefore, it is advisable to carry supplies along

Not only the magnificence of Himalayan views but the rich flora and fauna along with the folklores ranging from the mythological Saptrishis to the British administrators makes Binsar an idyllic sojourn halt. The relatively unspoilt wilderness is alarmed only by the noises of animals or birds whereas the centuries old oaks testify the changing perspectives. Much before the British moved in, Binsar was the summer capital of Chand Rajas. However, a little survives from its undoubted ancient past except for the thirteenth century temple complex dedicated to Shiva and Parvati.

A large quantity of watering holes, called Naulas, are found in this water retaining Oak forest

A large quantity of watering holes, called Naulas, are found in this water retaining Oak forest

Banj and Maaru Oak trees are found at the upper altitudes of Binsar.

Banj and Maaru Oak trees, useful medicinally, are found in the upper reaches of Binsar.

Divinely worshipped, Deodars are considered reliable building material. Throughout Himalaya, Deodar forests were thoroughly exploited by the British.

Divinely worshipped, Deodars are considered to be a reliable building material. As a matter of fact, The British had thoroughly exploited Deodar forests throughout the Himalaya.

The forest wealth of Binsar comprises Himalayan Oaks, Chir Pine, Deodars, Rhododendrons, etc. apart from noteworthy birdlife and usual wildlife. I was particularly enamoured by my first sighting of a flying squirrel as it jumped in the thick of moss-covered dense woods. The sanctuary pamphlet I was carrying claimed that Binsar is home to leopards, barking deer, wild boars, monkeys, jackals, red fox and porcupines, etc. Housing over 150 bird species, it is considered to be an absolute paradise for birdwatchers. The popular ones include flycatchers, khaleej pheasant, cuckoo, great barbet, tits, nuthatches, parakeets, thrushes, koklas, golden eagle and himalayan woodpecker, etc.

While morning hours see a buzz at the Zero Point, daytime is generally popular for bird-watching as well as observing village life. As the light starts fading, residents in the confines of the sanctuary throng the FRH compound to admire the setting sun.

The century old FRH is one of the popular Sunset viewpoints inside the sanctuary

The century old FRH is one of the popular Sunset viewpoints inside the sanctuary

In these environmentally testing times, Binsar continues to be one of the last remaining fortresses of well-preserved blooming nature. Unlike most other reserves, the forest sanctuary of Binsar is open throughout the year and offers distinct flavours in all four seasons ranging from the red rhododendron to energetic flame of the forests in spring, from the misty monsoons to the unparalleled vibrant views of autumn and snows in winter.

 

The setting sun as observed from the FRH

पहाड़ की चेलीले, पहाड़ की बौरी ले, कभे नी खाया दि रोटा सुखले। हाय हाय ले काटा दुखले दिन ले, पहाड़ की चेलीले, पहाड़ की बौरी ले। More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Average Altitude: 2200m
Best time to visit: Throughout the year; autumn in particular
Travel Lure: Himalayan views, Wildlife rich forests
Accommodation: Always confirm in advance


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Doon Valley Diary; The Rock Edict of Ashoka at Kalsi

Ashoka Pillars guarding the entrance

A replica of Ashoka Pillars guarding the entrance (twitter: @satravell is now @gobnomadic)

As we were heading to Chakrata in the spring of 2013, an Information Board by the highway, near Herbertpur, announced the location of an Asokan Rock Edict at Kalsi still a few kilometres ahead. Honestly speaking, none of us had any idea that the approach to the historical site was on this particular stretch of the highway in the Vale of Doreen.  Even the guidebook we used to rely upon failed in its purpose to provide any useful information about the site. The next thing I knew we were at the spot looking for clues to be captured.

The entrance-lane to the site lies towards the right side at the end of the main market of Kalsi town. Located near the confluence of Yamuna and Tons, Kalsi is about 50 km from Dehradun on the road to Chakrata via Herbertpur. The military barricade on the road to Chakrata is positioned just ahead of the market of Kalsi after which foreigners are required to furnish a permission from the Home Ministry to venture beyond.

The paved entrance to the site

The paved entrance to the site at Kalsi

The Great Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (273 – 232 BC) got his fourteenth edict inscribed on a rock at Kalsi. However, the site was brought to light by John Forest in 1860. Considered to be one of the most important monuments in the field of Indian epigraphy, the rock edict is looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Representing the times when Ashoka had vowed himself to be a Buddhist, after having conquered a substantial chunk of the globe, the 10 x 8 ft-rock edict is identified in Prakrit language and Brahmi script.

The fourteenth rock edict of Ashoka

The fourteenth Rock Edict of Ashoka

Having embraced Buddhism, Ashoka is known to have got 14 rocks inscribed, spread across his empire, with a unique religious message on each. The edicts reflect Ashoka’s humane approach towards his administration and his commitment to non-violence as well as abandonment of warfare. The inscriptions are believed to be a testimony to the fact that what Ashoka preached also practiced.

The small garden around the dome appeared to be a reasonable place to picnic. The landscape from the site presented with a rich frame comprising fertile fields spread on successive ledges till the bank of Yamuna against the backdrop of shallow hills. I wondered what the scene would have been back in the Ashokan times.

In its heyday, the region surely must have been the best of tarai forests full of wildlife. Even as recently as the late 1940s, the valley of Jungle Princess Doreen, Dehradun was full of tigers and other big cats. On a sadder note, the current state of wildlife appears to be very gloomy despite the presence of two national parks – Rajaji National Park and Kalesar National Park – in the vicinity of Dehra Valley. Nevertheless, the vale continues to be popular with birding enthusiasts.

The dome was constructed in 1912 by the then government to protect the rock

This building, the dome, over the Rock Edict was constructed by the Government of the United Provinces in March 1912 to protect the inscription

Kalsi can be visited round the year albeit if you are okay with the idea of spending a hot summer afternoon at an average altitude of 750 m. Apart from a lone FRH at Kalsi, the nearest appreciable accommodation options are at Dakpathar (just four km) or Asan barrage.


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“Maharaja in Denims, a tale of Love, Intrigue and Passion”

Appositely titled, “Maharaja in Denims”, the latest story by Khushwant Singh intriguingly combines passionate love, history, tragedy as well as the local culture of Chandigarh, author’s worktown.

In his first fictitious narrative spanning multiple time zones and generations, the author relates with various aspects of Punjab, including its formation, as well as Punjabi families particularly the farming community and successfully creates flashes of university life of Chandigarh.

Justifiably priced at Rs 250, the book dramatically creates interest in its reader towards the crucial events that shaped the present day Punjab. Blended well with the modern fiction, in less than 200 pages, the book emerges to be a light but thoughtful dose of antiquity of Sikhism and Punjab. Starting with the aura and greatness of Ranjit Singh, the book touches upon Captain WG Osborne’s fascinating account of Ranjit Singh, his harem and his love for women (no womaniser). Moving ahead, the book reflects on the aftereffects of the partition and 1984 riots in Delhi.

“Ranjit Singh, who rose from the status of a petty chieftain to become the most powerful Indian ruler was also the first and only Sikh ruler of Punjab. His empire extended from Tibet to the deserts of Sindh, and from the Khyber Pass to the Sutlej in the east, with an estimated area of 1, 00,436 sq. miles and a population of five-and-a-half million.” I was particularly inspired by the vastness of the empire of the great Maharaja.  Although, the typical political hatred could also be smelled out of the flow of events, overall the book is very much a work of fiction.

The fictional aspects of the book revolves around the central character Hari, a college going young adult who inadvertently discovers himself to be a reincarnation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the true lion of Punjab and Sikhism. His caring girlfriend Suzanne becomes a rather helpless observer of his previous lives traversing through multiple generations.

Presenting an outline of the major events that led to the creation of modern Punjab and the multiple problems it had to face in its eventful journey; the book will motivate you to know more about the greatness and effectiveness of Ranjit Singh. Anybody who has spent his college or university days in Chandigarh would be able to relate with the flow of fiction in the book. The simplified language of the book interspersed with witty local phrases makes for an easy and compulsive fresh fiction read on the region.

You can buy the book online at Flipkart.


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Kumaon Diary; The Himalayan Showground at Chaukori

The twin peaks of Nanda Devi. Nanda Devi (7816m) to the left and Nanda Devi East (7434m) towards the right. Photo Credit Sarabjit Lehal

The twin peaks of Nanda Devi. Nanda Devi (7816m) to the left and Nanda Devi East (7434m) towards the right. Photo Credit Sarabjit Lehal

The Himalayan state of Dev Bhoomi Uttarakhand is the most perfect setting to experience the deific relationship between the extremities of beauty and grandeur. For me, the chance to shadow-walk the established ancient trade route arteries of Kumaon division, in the mountain state of Uttarakhand, arose later last month when the time window allowed an escape to the erstwhile trade region of Munsiyari.

The current Himalayan spree proved to be far more than just an escape from the summer heat of north India plains. As they say, “No road is long with good company”, accordingly the hilly road travel of more than 1500 km spanned over a week seemed like a doddle.

Before last season I had been to the forests of Jandidhar (Binsar) when the sheer plenitude of the Himalayan effect had initiated me into the White Range from a deeper perspective and forge an eternal harmony. Each and every time there is an indescribable pleasure in looking up the gigantic holy pinnacles and soaking in the pure mountain air.

Captured near Kanda

Captured near Kanda. Photo Credit Sarabjit Lehal

Having cooled off our engines at Nainital from the previous night’s long drive through the plains, we set off for Chaukori via Almora, Binsar and Bageshwar. Although, the route through Bageshwar (182 km) is a little longer than the Almora – Sherghat – Berinag highway (174 km) but is more scenic as well as appealing. In between the eight hours long travel, the markets of Bhowali, Khairana, Almora and Bageshwar were typically full of local produce including seasonal fruits and necessary travel-supplies.

Mountainscape near Kanda. More images from the region at Flickr

Mountainscape near KandaPhoto Credit Sarabjit Lehal

Ahead of the wide Sarju valley at Bageshwar, where in the midst of fertile fields the flat-roofed houses seemed like prudently placed matchboxes, the drive became even more pretty. As the vehicle inched up the motorway to Chaukori, our halt for the night, we had our first ‘provoking’ view of the Great Himalayan Range. Although, our momentous bliss was partially disturbed by the evening haze, the vividness produced by the golden crop in the shadow of high snows smeared the landscape in consistency with the putative belief that Kumaon offers the best snow views. The incredible last stretch of 16 km between the tiny hamlet of Vijaypur (1820m) and Chaukori (2015m), in the waning light, premeditated our thoughts for the night.

Setting sunscape near Vijaypur on the Bageshwar - Chaukori motorway

Setting sunscape near Vijaypur on the Bageshwar – Chaukori motorway. More at Flickr

Early morning view at Chaukori.

Early morning view at Chaukori. Photo Credit Sarabjit Lehal

Out of the limited number of accommodation options at Chaukori, only a few enjoy north-faced setting. We preferred the state government run KMVN property positioned just perfectly. If only the management could improve in its services, the properties of KMVN (or GMVN) would be the most popular tourist spots in the state. The key lure attached to this particular accommodation is the uninterrupted Himalayan spectacle dominated by the mountain Goddess Nanda Devi.

As we sit down in the open lawn (which occasionally doubles up as a helipad) of the complex and soak in the cold hilly breeze downing our share of Himalayan poison and noshing on the accompaniments, our addiction with the Himalaya clearly got aroused anew. We lay under the starry night sky and marvelled at the snowy screen that was preparing to unveil on the other side of darkness. That night had a meaning.

At the break of dawn, cameras were ready and tripods were set. Three anonymous photo artists began capturing their story of Himalaya. The emerging temperate rays of the sun produced a scintillating morning show. With each passing moment, the refining intensity of light proclaimed the presence of heavenly rocks.

“And there she was! Cresting the ragged rocks casually scattered” – CS Houston

“And there she was! Cresting the ragged rocks casually scattered” – CS Houston. In the frame, the Nanda Khat (6611 m) is just below the Nanda Devi summit. More from the region at Flickr Photoset

With the showstopper lying towards the western horizon of the frame, the morning ritual climaxed at the supreme Nanda Devi, the fountainhead of inspiration, reveries and visions as well as patron Goddess of both Kumaon and Garhwal. Both my crime-partners instantly vanished into the wilderness around, with their cameras ready, in search of a better frame. I opted to laze around in the compound.

The southern outliers of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve captured from a point in Chaukori.

The southern outliers of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve captured from a point in Chaukori. L to R: Mrigthuni (6855 m), Maiktoli (6803 m), Sunderdhunga Khal (5520 m), Panwali Dwar (6663 m), Nanda Khat (6611 m), Nanda Devi (7816 m), Nanda Devi East (7434 m), Lamchir (5662m), Changuch (5322m) and Nanda Kot (6861m).  Photo Credit Sarabjit Lehal

The drowsy azure created by the numinous snows, around the Nanda Devi, that was leisurely waking up from its winter slumber, summoned mysticism from far and wide. Only a painter or a poet could do full justice in expressing the view.

Facing north, a riotous chunk of rocks, wooded ridges, deep valleys, mountain ranges inconsistently rippling one above another and producing dark blue hues against the heavenly backdrop of holy snowy peaks of the great Himalaya. He who has absorbed this scene primed by the stunning Nanda Devi, may have fulfilled his yearning to witness one of the most astoundingly inspirational worldly sights.

View towards Nanda Devi twins from Chaukori. Photo Credit Sarabjit Lehal

View towards Nanda Devi twins from Chaukori. Photo Credit Sarabjit Lehal

Spread above the tea gardens of Berinag region, Chaukori offers an angled view, partially foreshortened by the prominence of Nanda Khat, of the twin peaks of Nanda Devi providing a wonderful unimpeded outline of the mountains in the South Nanda Devi Sanctuary. The view in the southern outliers is dominated by the magnificent snow drape of Nanda Kot. East of Nanda Kot, the key peaks include Dangthal, Rajrambha, Panchachulis and up to Annapurna on a clear weather day. For views towards Trishul and Mrigthuni, one needs to walk a bit and cross the first ridge in the west direction.

Nanda Kot and Dangkhal as visible from Chaukori

Nanda Kot (6861 m) and Dangkhal (6050 m) as visible from Chaukori. More at Flickr Photoset

Shadowed by the towering Himalayan peaks and blessed with forests of pines, oaks and rhododendrons, Chaukori makes for an idyllic Himalayan holiday destination. The fresh air, tea shrubs, orchards and the dense woods add to the comforting charm of the hill. One of the tea-gardens here was once owned by the hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett. Of the many interesting walks, the three km hike to the musk deer breeding farm is one of the popular options. The walkway to the farm leaves off the main road in the direction of Vijaypur. Just remember photography is not allowed inside the caged premises of the breeding farm. The nearest marketplace is Berinag (10 km). Other popular “Nags” villages nearby include Dhaulinag, Kalinag, Feninag, Bashukinag, Pinglenag and Harinag. Famous temples nearby include Nag Devta and Tripura Devi.

View from the KMVN Chaukori.

View from the KMVN Chaukori. More from the region at Flickr Photoset

Golden wheat along the motorway near the tea estates of Berinag; view towards the hills of Pithoragarh

Golden wheat along the motorway near the tea estates of Berinag; view towards hills of Pithoragarh

View towards Pithoragarh hills.

View towards Pithoragarh hills. Photo Credit Sarabjit Lehal

Average Altitude at Chaukori: 2000m
Best time to visit: October to April
Famous for: Sylvan charms and Himalayan views
Accommodation: Limited but mostly available. KMVN offers the best views


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Garhwal Diary; Lesser exploits in the Himalayan Balcony at Pauri

Mystical morning at Pauri; Hathi Ghori Peaks in sight

Incipient sunbeams creating mystical profile of gleaming Hathi Ghori Peaks. More at Flickr

The shining Central Himalayas in the morning

The shining Central Himalayas in the morning. More from the region at Flickr Photoset

The inchoate beams of the sun, next morning, unveiled some more features as well as divine aspects of the holy snow-clad screen. With the morning light producing silhouettes over the gleaming icy pinnacles, the awakening of senses reverberated with the mystical reflections off the snows in the vast Himalayan amphitheatre. Peaks as far as Dunagiri, Nanda Devi and Mrig Thuni towards the eastern horizon were clearly visible. Collecting my senses from the previous night’s slumber, I sat by the window pane and arranged my camera.

Not just aesthetically admired but the peaks of the Great Himalayan Range visible in Garhwal or Kumaon are revered as their guardian deities by the locals where the inspired ones usually begin their day by bowing in reverence for the Himalayan Gods. In Pauri, the centre stage is occupied by the Badri Vishal. The spirituality associated with the Himalayas finds a much deeper significance down below in the plains. The Ganges fed by the central Himalayas is in actual fact the lifeline of north India, grain bowl of the country.

The Hathi Gorhi Parbat massif

The Hathi Gorhi Parbat massif above Khirsu woods. Please visit Flickr for more images

L to R: Nanda Ghunti (6340m), Roung Tee (6370m) and Trishuli (7120m)

L to R: Nanda Ghunti (6340m), Roung Tee (6370m) and Trishuli (7120m). More at Flickr

The locals, particularly the priests, are generally well versed with the nomenclature of this part of the Himalayas and would happily point out the peaks and directions for you. The issue, however, is the relative topography as well as its latest terminology. With a hope of finding a latest relative map of the state or the region, I futilely checked at the bookshops of the main market located on either side of the main road or “The Mall Road” as referred to by the locals.

A panoramic view captured near the Deputy Commissioner's residence

A panoramic view captured near the Deputy Commissioner’s residence. More at Flickr

With amiability in their attitude, the inhabitants of the political capital of the Land of Gods are profoundly religious as is reflected by the thriving historical temples dotting the town. The popular ones are Kandoliya Devta, Laxmi Narayan, eighth-century Kyunkaleshwar Mahadev, Hanuman Mandir and a temple dedicated to Nag Devta. Nearby, other places of interest which could also double up as picnic spots include Ransi ground, Khirsu and Adwani forests, etc.

Horse-shaped Pauri town as viewed from a point near Khirsu

Horse-shaped Pauri town. More images from the region at Flickr

Kalij Pheasant (White-crested) spotted on the way to Khirsu

Kalij Pheasant (White-crested) spotted near Khirsu

The view towards the Trishul, from Pauri, is partially enriched by the wooded ridge of Khirsu. Enticed by its sylvan charm, I hoped to get a better view of the mountain from the ridge, basically an extended right ridge-arm of Pauri that can be reached in about 30 drive-minutes. The approach offers some splendid Himalayan vistas as well as photogenic access to raw flora and fauna. In fact, the government has long been planning to develop the small hamlet of Khirsu into a hill station but the actual progress reflects the sad state of affairs.

The narrow dreamy road to Khirsu

The narrow dreamy road to Khirsu. More of the region at Flickr

The terraced fields of fertile Nayar Valley

The terraced fields of fertile Nayar Valley. More images from the region at Flickr

Mountainscape as viewed from the GMVN property at Khirsu

Mountainscape as viewed from the GMVN property at Khirsu. More images at Flickr Photoset

The accommodation options at Khirsu are limited to a few guesthouses including a spacious GMVN property and a FRH that promotes camping. Even though, I was disappointed by overall management of the quiet hamlet including the GMVN property, the densely wooded ridge not only offers some refreshing trails to take a walk but allows distinct views of Chaukhamba. At 1800m, the tranquillity of wooded Khirsu gets broken by chirping of birds or occasional clamour of monkeys. The ancient temple of Ghandiyal Devta is also located nearby.

Chaukhamba massif captured from Khirsu; Satopanth and Kumling are also in the frame

Chaukhamba massif captured from Khirsu; Satopanth and Kumling are also in the frame

I budgeted a day to visit the popular temples of Pauri. Encircled by evergreen deodars, the Kandoliya temple, situated just above town, is dedicated to the local deity Bhumi Dev and allows some quiet moment with eternal Himalayas. The Himalayan Gods, who superficially live on mountains in trees and streams, are innumerable. Every valley or village has its own deity but the most venerated one throughout Uttarakhand remains to be the Nanda Devi.

Entrance to the Kandoliya Mahadev Temple at Pauri

Entrance to the Kandoliya Mahadev Temple at Pauri. More images from the region at Flickr

The Kandoliya Mahadev Shrine

It takes about 10 min to climb the stairs to reach the Kandoliya Mahadev Shrine 

Later in the day, following a thoughtless guide book, I trekked all the way up to the Kyunkaleshwar temple, from the CH, only to discover that it can now be reached through a narrow motorable road. Situated a little above the settlement of Pauri, the temple offers some fascinating Himalayan vistas. Said to be belonging to the eighth-century, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and still practises the age-old Guru-Shishya ritual in its Gurukul.

A Havan Kund inside the Kyunkaleshwar temple complex

A Havan Kund inside the Kyunkaleshwar temple complex (taken from smartphone device)

The Gurukul students or staff would gladly guide you through the historical memorials located within the temple compound. If you are lucky enough, your walk to the temple could be rewarded with a remarkable presence of wildlife as well as birdlife including wild pheasants. I luckily spotted a Himalayan Fox couple. One more temple dedicated to the Nag Devta could best be reached through a 45 min trek starting near the Superintendent of Police’s office.

Glittering Chaukhamba massif

The Golden Chaukhamba massif. More images of the region at Flickr Photoset

Average Altitude at Khirsu: 1800m
Best time to visit: October to April, avoid monsoons
Famous for: Sylvan charms and Chaukhamba views
Accommodation: Limited but mostly available


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Garhwal Diary; The Grand Balcony of Himalayas at Pauri

The poetic highway NH 119

The poetic highway NH 119. More pics of the region at Flickr Photoset

Very often, our notion of the perfectness of a hill station collectively comprises the quality of the mountain-scape it offers to its visitors. In the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, the flavour of landscape switches to a newer angle with every rising ridge or changing hillside but the prime focus of the show remains the snow-capped curtain of central Himalayas stretching roughly over 150 miles from Swargarohini in the west to Panchachuli group of peaks in east. Nonetheless, such an innocuous desire to be able to savour the picture-perfect grand Himalayan spectacle gets verbalized by supportive weather conditions prevailing at that point in time. I would say that I was very fortunate indeed to have been blessed by a near-perfect view of the glowing snowy screen which Pauri Garhwal is famous for.

The fertile Nayar Valley

The fertile Nayar Valley. More from the region at Flickr Photoset

Descending the Lansdowne ridge, the nicely tarred NH 119 takes about 150 comfortable-minutes to reach Pauri, the administrative headquarters of Pauri Garhwal district of the state. Looping an exposed hillside, the narrow highway passes through Gumkhal and Satpuli just as the white curtain disappears from the scenery giving way to the Nayar Gorge. Spread on both sides of the highway, the small trade centres of Gumkhal and Satpuli comprises, typical of a small Garhwal town, matchbox-sized shops many of which still retain their wooden framework. Ahead of the confluence point of Western Nayar with Eastern Nayar at Satpuli, the road gradually ascends and the narrow gorge opens into the richly fertile Nayar valley comprising one of the most scenically terrace-shaped agriculture fields. The delight of passing through the multi-shaded green landscape immediately got fructified at a bend near Buwakhal when the shining snowy screen made an instant appearance. Passing through dense woods, the remaining six kilometres till Pauri presented a short intro to the Great Himalayas where one by one each major peak announced its presence.

The vantage offered by Pauri ranges from the far-flung hills of Mussoorie to Chamoli regions.

The vantage offered by Pauri ranges from the far-flung hills of Mussoorie to Chamoli regions.

Previously known as the British Garhwal, Pauri has always been an important trading centre and was a staging post during the silk-route days. Spread on the terraced northern slopes of Kandoliya Range, at an average altitude of 1750 m, Pauri has gradually become the political nerve centre of Garhwal region. Possessing a rare scenic beauty and scintillating surroundings, the settlement of Pauri comprises a fusion of recently constructed houses as well as olden ones bearing signs of traditional architecture and a market that fulfils most needs of the region. Unlike most other hill stations developed by the British, Pauri has retained very little from the colonial past. In its place, Pauri is a confused manifestation of an expanded village gradually germinating into a Himalayan town. The character of the landscape shifts from being milder to a more rugged one as one enters the side valleys to reach snows.

L to R: Kirti Stambh (6510m), Bharat Kuntha (6578m), Kedarnath (6940m)

L to R: Kirti Stambh (6510m) and Kedarnath (6940m) in the centre. More at Flickr

The 6351 m Sumeru Parbat continues to be one of the most difficult and less attempted peaks of the region

The 6351 m Sumeru Parbat continues to be one of the most difficult and less attempted peaks of the region. More peaks and nomenclature of the region at Flickr Photoset

The visitor profile to Pauri includes pilgrims who are either on their way to the famed Char Dham Yatra or visitors to the ancient temples of Pauri. Though, in the recent times, Pauri has been gaining popularity with adventurers, trekkers and para-sailors. Owing to the avenues generated by an influx of tourists, over the past few years, a few guesthouses, restaurants, eateries and a couple of ‘resorts’ have come up. I always say the state-run GMVN property could have been managed better. The best aspect of staying in Pauri is that almost every accommodation offers a splendid view of snow-capped Himalayas. However, the best views can be had from the Deputy Commissioner’s residence.

Literally meaning Tail of a monkey, the shining Bandarpunch massif

Literally meaning Tail of a Monkey, the shining Bandarpunch massif. More at Flickr

Fortunately, I was welcomed at the conveniently located Circuit House (CH). I particularly liked the accommodation for the views it commanded and the sumptuous home-cooked meals dished out by the cook. In winters, during the daytime, the open lawns of the CH complex would become favourite haunt of the neighbours who would spend their afternoons taking the sun. As the locals were gearing up to receive the first spell of snowfall of the season, the exceptional sunny afternoons were possibly their best bet to socialise.

Morning view from the lawns of the CH.

Morning view from the lawns of the CH. Please visit Flickr Photoset for more images

Having offered a tea, I could not think of a better way to soak in the views of the Garhwal Himalayas. Barring a few inquisitive eyes, my presence was generally discounted by all. The region consists of a succession of gentle mountain ridges divided from each other by deep glens and climaxing at the snowy Himalayan canvas. Excluding the helm of Srinagar, the pasture of Panai on the banks of Alaknanda and the submontane tract, there was no level land visible from Pauri. The vantage offered by Pauri included the far-flung hills of Mussoorie, Chamba, Tehri, Rudraprayag, Srinagar, Karnaprayag and Chamoli regions. The panoramic view of enamouring snowy range included the peaks of Swargarohini, Bander Pooch, Gangotri Group, Kedarnth, Sumeru, Chaukhamba, Neelkanth, Hathiparvat, Nandadevi and Trisul etc. My eyes remained fixed on the spectacularly arresting mighty Chaukhamba massif. What more a Himalayan devotee like me would desire for than a noise-free civilised space and time to savour the holy glittering rocks?

Ranging from 6854 m to 7138 m, the mighty Chaukhamba Massif

Ranging from 6854 m to 7138 m, the mighty Chaukhamba Massif. More at Flickr

The 6596 m Neelkantha (Badrinath) towards right

The 6596 m Neelkantha (Badrinath) towards right. More peaks at Flickr Photoset

The golden 6904 m Mt Thalay Sagar

The golden 6904 m Mt Thalay Sagar. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

The glittering Kharcha Kund 6613 m

The glittering Kharcha Kund 6613 m. More peaks from the region at Flickr Photoset

The mystic sunlight in the morning and evening exhibits a glittering rebellion of colours on the sharp snow-clad rocks. The blue hues seamlessly merging into a shade better, ridge after ridge, produce a hypnotic effect during the two extremes of the day. The magnitude of habitation could feasibly be assessed in the night when the countless sparkling lights jeweling hillsides are viewed under a starry nightscape. I would regrettably say that no ridge or no corner as visible is spared from construction or the destruction.

The glittering Gangotri Group as observed from Pauri.

The glittering Gangotri Group as observed from Pauri. More from the region at Flickr

Given the nature of the mountainscape, there can be little doubt that Pauri should be visited in a haze-free weather. The climate of the region is generally pleasant in summer, very cold in winter and heavy rainfall in monsoon. Apart from providing a considerate environment to a poet or an author or a photographer or a painter, Pauri offers some pleasing walks through dense woods full of flora and fauna. Such frivolous details would be covered in the next post.

Do not forget to load your photography gear with a wide-angle lens. In my case, sadly, my chief moped at the last moment.

Average Altitude: 1700m
Best time to visit: November to April, avoid monsoons
Travel Lure: Himalayan views
Accommodation: Mostly available


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Garhwal Diary; an affair with Bhullas at Lansdowne

The year-end holiday window presented me with a much-needed opportunity to rekindle my affair with Himalayas. Fortunately, this time, my visit to an oft-overlooked region uphill of Bhabhar belt of Pauri Garhwal was pedantically hosted by a family friend who made the stay superbly comfortable.

The mystic Himalayan wealth; view towards the Trisul and Nanda Devi. More images at Flickr

The mystic Himalayan wealth of Garhwal; view towards the Trisul and Nanda Devi. More at Flickr

As the road climbed from Kotdwar by the River Khoh crossing Sidhbali and Durga Devi temples, the Sal cover, stretched towards the North West fringes of the Corbett National Park, gradually gave way to pine forests and rocky mountain region. The current stretch of the NH 119 loops around small hills by the Khoh till Duggada, a village which shot into prominence during the construction of the cart road to connect Kotdwara with Lansdowne in 1919. Literally meaning a confluence, Duggada is a meeting point of Khoh stream, which rises near Dwarikhal in the Langur Range, and stream Siligadh. During rains, the Khoh is known to swell into a gushing stream before debouching the plains at Kotdwara, the administrative headquarters of the Bhabhar administration.

NH 119; I'd say one of the finest and loveliest hill-roads

NH 119; I’d say one of the finest and loveliest hill-roads. More pics at Flickr Photoset

Right from my entry to Lansdowne, I was disciplinarily guided, wherever I sought directions to my destination within the administrative limits. A serene and modern blend of regimental history and comparatively an unspoiled hillside, Lansdowne has everything a curious traveller would look for. Or as the resident men in Olive Greens proudly define the scenic hill-station, “a geographic version of a gun with nature in the barrel”!

I'd say Army is the reason behind the impeccable upkeep of the ridge

“A geographic version of a gun with nature in the barrel”. More of the region at Flickr Photoset

What more could I have asked for to awaken my spirits after a long day’s drive through plains when early morning, after the incipient rays of sun had played its magical part, I was welcomed by a superb Himalayan spectacle straight out of imagination. The snowy curtain of the central Great Himalayan Range stretches almost for 100 miles from Swargarohini to Nanda Kot.

The inspiring peace and tranquillity offered by Lansdowne’s misty charms along with the breathtakingly serene Himalayan views is nature at its best in today’s environmentally-conflicting times. Interspersed with antique self-designed red-roofed bungalows, rhododendron, oaks and deodars, the serenity only gets broken by chirrups of sparrows and thrushes or rallying calls of Bhullas in their training ground. Literally meaning a younger brother, soldiers of Garhwal Regiment are referred to as Bhullas amongst themselves. 

Indicator to over 15 major peaks of the Great Himalayan Range, the bronze dial was presented to the Garhwal Regiment by Col Roberts

Indicator to over 15 major peaks of the Great Himalayan Range, the bronze Dial was presented to the Garhwal Regiment by Col Roberts. More pics of the region at Flickr Photoset

The house once owned by Col Robert is also said to be associated with friendly headless horserider ghost of himself

The house once owned by Col Roberts is also said to be associated with friendly headless horserider ghost of himself. No ceremony is said to be complete unless a toast is raised to him

The impeccably managed antique building, now the Officer's Mess of Garhwal Rifles Regimental Centre, houses historical treasure in the form of military records, books, game trophies, etc. The building full of extravagantly lifestyle of the British was constructed in 1892.

The impeccably managed antique building, now the Officer’s Mess of Garhwal Rifles Regimental Centre, houses historical treasure in the form of military records, books, game trophies, etc. The building, witness to the extravagantly lifestyle of the British, was constructed in 1892.

The Gazebo offers most perfect view possible on the ridge of Lansdowne

The Gazebo offers most perfect view possible on the ridge of Lansdowne. More pics at Flickr

The antique stone cellar was in use to store and preserve game by the British

The antique stone cellar, down below, was used to store and preserve game by the British

View of the Great Himalayan Range from the Dial

View of the Great Himalayan Range from the Dial. More from the region at Flickr

A panoramic view of the Garhwal Himalayas

A panoramic view of the Garhwal Himalayas. Please visit Flickr Photoset for more pics

Originally known as Kaludanda, the name Lansdowne, for a hill station, may appear to be out of place in this part of the world. After the ridge was occupied by the freshly-raised Garhwal Regiment of Infantry, it was renamed as Lansdowne in 1890 to venerate Henry Charles Keith Petty Fitzmaurice, the fifth Marquis of Lansdowne who happened to be the British Viceroy of India during that period. Most of the colonial leftovers are professionally preserved and egoistically put to display by the Garhwali Rifles inside the cantonment.

Lansdowne is strategically located on a ridge, at an average altitude of 1700 m, which overlooks the forest wealth of Bhabhar, Garhwal and Kumaon regions. Still retaining its original charm, courtesy the Indian Army, the popular attractions within Lansdowne including Santoshi Mata temple, Tiffin Top, Bhulla Taal, St Mary’s as well as St John’s Churches, Regimental Museum, Main Market, etc. all can be covered on foot. Visiting the inbounds of cantonment may not be possible without permission from the concerned authorities. I would say fortunately I was very lucky. 

From being a temple, school, stable and a godown, the restored St John's Church (1936) has seen it all

From being a temple, school, stable and a godown, the restored St John’s Church (1936) has seen it all

A temple Bell tied at the entrance door of the St John's Church

A temple Bell tied at the entrance door of the St John’s Church. More from the region at Flickr

Originally built in 1896, the St Mary's Church was restored recently

Originally built in 1896, the St Mary’s Church was restored recently. More at Flickr

Also called Tip n Top, the Tiffin Top point makes for a good Himalayan-observation point

Also called Tip n Top, the Tiffin Top point makes for a good Himalayan-observation point

The artificially built Bhulla Taal is a popular picnic spot

The artificially built Bhulla Taal is a popular picnic spot. More from the region at Flickr

Inside the Garhwal Regimental Museum.

The Garhwal Rifles Regimental Museum houses some of the oldest weaponry used and records maintained by the British in the region. For more pics, please visit Flickr Photoset

Mostly owing to its positioning on the trade route, back in the days of the Raj, Lansdowne was one of the largest hill cantonments. The shaded winding roads are still lined with colonial bungalows unwaveringly holding their olden charm with ornate gates and windowsills hidden behind a riot of shrubbery. The cantonment stretches along the ridge for over eight kilometres and is roughly divided into halves by a gulch at the pinnacle of the Pauri-Lansdowne road near the church. The Garhwal Rifles occupy a majority of the area on the ridge and the top by officers’ bungalows. The Sadar Bazaar lies towards the south of the ridge and the Bhulla Taal towards the South West.

The Gandhi Park chowk also marks the Main Market

The Gandhi Park Chowk also marks the Main Market. More from the region at Flickr Photoset

It took me about 70 minutes to reach Lansdowne from Kotdwar market. A full-day walk would be enough to touch the various points of attraction. However, a longish stay is recommended to be friends with the fauna and discover the tranquility of Kaludanda. Before you trip in, be sure about your accommodation at Lansdowne as there are limited options. For Civilians. Yes! 

Welcoming the sun at Lansdowne; the Nayar Valley is enveloped by clouds

Welcoming the sun at Lansdowne; the Nayar Valley is enveloped by clouds. More pics at Flickr

Average Altitude: 1700m
Best time to visit: Round the year
Travel Lure: Sylvan charms and Himalayan views
Accommodation: Very limited

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